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Internet and Identity

Dream Team, Author
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Likes and Constant Comparisons

One effect of social media is that it creates a cycle of constant comparison among users.
First, for example, it is not uncommon to post about a significant life event (such as landing a job, starting a relationship, getting an award, etc.). Below is what my Facebook “Activity Log,” which shows all of my posts, looked like for a section of February:

The two posts circled are statuses that I wrote—the first one about being hired back as a camp counselor for the summer and the second about being accepted to the Granada program for study abroad. In both of these situations, my post came along almost simultaneously with the news or decision itself. People joke about relationships not being real until they are “FBO” (Facebook official), and in this case, I am furthering an idea similar to that by feeling the need to post about these events in order to make them “real.” Obviously, this is not my thought process when I make the actual post—it is usually a pretty thoughtless decision to share the news. But if I actually stop to think about why I felt it was necessary to post this, it’s rather odd. For some reason, my experiences feel almost incomplete if they are not somehow displayed to the world. Yet social media promotes representations of reality that are not fully truthful by enabling users to be extremely selective about what they post and how they post it. In our culture today, one that relies heavily on social media, it is necessary to be aware of how "posting" and "liking" have changed how we see ourselves in comparison to one another.

As another example, ithe above photos, taken at a VUSO concert, I’m beaming and holding up my clarinet with pride. My friend Meredith and I have our arms around each other, and I’m leaning into my friend Evan—both of these poses indicate close friendships. The photo with Evan has a filter on it designed to better the lighting of the photo. If one was simply scrolling through Facebook and saw these pictures after the orchestra concert, they probably would not stop to analyze it as much as I just did. But by using only these pictures, I am creating one particular representation of my reality that is not necessarily the full truth. This was a very satisfying and rewarding concert, and I do appreciate both of my friends here very much, but what is not being pictured here are the hours spent in the practice room (and time spent complaining about this) and the stress that came along with very challenging pieces and the time commitment leading up to the concert. Because I am only showing these snippets, I am selectively idealizing my life experiences.

If you judged my life solely off of the “photos” page on my Facebook, it would seem I never stop smiling and am constantly surrounded by loving friends and family. But this isn’t the truth—my experiences are full of ups and downs and much more varied than what you see here. While people may know this deep down, still, I myself find it challenging to remember this when simply scrolling through my news feed and looking at others postings.

Simply by completing a quick search on the PsycINFO database with keywords such as “Facebook” and “self,” it is evident that there is a ton of research done by scholars on how Facebook affects self-perception: the abstracts claim that “lower self-esteem is associated with more time spent on Facebook” . . .  “results provided evidence that Facebook reassurance seeking predicted lower levels of self-esteem” … “Facebook profiles are self-affirming in the sense of satisfying users’ need for self-worth and self-integrity,” and “Facebook users gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an unconscious effort to repair their perceptions of self-worth”—and this is just a sample of a few! It is human nature to strive for others’ approval. Social media feeds off of this, and creates a vicious cycle: we shape our posts to make us look unrealistically perfect, yet at the same time we buy into others’ representations of themselves in this way. We must be cautious of the danger of our experiences not feeling “real” or complete until other people know about and approve of them in order to avoid the trap of constant comparison. Simply being aware is the first step.

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